The his­tory of the ivory trade

Ivory has been a pre­cious ma­te­rial for mil­len­nia, but the scale of the in­dus­try has grown ex­po­nen­tially over time

World of Animals - - The War On Ivory -

An An­cient Art Form

Circa 40,000 years ago

Ice Age humans in north­ern Europe were us­ing mam­moth ivory and boar tusks long be­fore the rise of the African ivory trade, as ev­i­denced by fig­urines like the ‘Venus of Hohle Fels’.

An ivory Re­nais­sance


Ivory is used for lux­ury goods like book cov­ers and re­li­gious arte­facts through­out the Me­dieval pe­riod. It sees a resur­gence in the mid-13th cen­tury, with the fo­cus shift­ing to artis­tic carv­ings.

rise of the ‘white Gold’ Trade


As Euro­pean mer­chants be­gin to es­tab­lish ship­ping routes to and from western Africa, ele­phant tusks be­come a sta­ple cargo, along­side gold, spices and slaves.

From lux­ury to Ev­ery­day


While still a premium ma­te­rial used for high-so­ci­ety ob­jets d’art, por­trait minia­tures and in­stru­ments, ivory also be­gins to ap­pear in more mass-pro­duced items such as but­tons and combs.


the tip­ping point

By now 100,000 ele­phants are be­ing killed a year to fuel the de­mand for ivory. In 1989, CITES adds African ele­phants to its Ap­pendix I species, putting a to­tal ban on trad­ing ele­phant ivory in­ter­na­tion­ally.


one-off Sales

A decade af­ter the ban is in­tro­duced CITES al­lows a one-off sale of al­most 50 tons of ivory to Ja­pan, where the ma­te­rial is used in tra­di­tional objects like fans, or­na­ments and net­suke.

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